Artist's Statement: Susie Parr on the Black Country Allotment Society

Susie Parr interviewed by Mark Sheerin Published: 14 November 2014

Susie Parr teams up with Multistory in Sandwell to produce nine essays about allotments in the Black Country. The writer tells us more

Colour photo of a writer
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
Artist’s Statement: In her own words...writer Susie Parr tells us about her experience visiting allotments in Sandwell and the development of nine essays in response.

“There's something about allotments as you go into a city, usually on the train. It's that transition from country to city. I just find them very attractive places to be.

What was surprising was that, given that West Brom and the Black Country is a pretty deprived area, people are creating these spaces of hope and order.

It’s also a very degraded landscape in terms of its industrial feature. I was surprised by the absolute beauty of these places, the care and creativity that people show when they're tending their plots.

Also, I was really surprised by the interconnectedness of the different groups of people using the plots, but also their connectedness with the seasons and with food and with insects like bees.

The other thing I really, really learned was about how resilient and ingenious people are in terms of not throwing stuff away, but finding a use for everything. Nothing is wasted, and the uses to which people put things is quite remarkable.

I did quite a lot of reading about the history of the Black Country and many commentators, including Dickens, described it in its heyday, saying there was just no green at all. Everything was black with smoke and soot. There were lots of waste from the foundries, and coal.

It just did sound very grim. People would try and squeeze in a row of potatoes here or some oats there or have a pig in their back yard. So one gets the impression that gardens and allotments or plots for growing vegetables had been really scarce historically.

But as I say in the introduction to the piece, when we started to plot all the allotment sites onto the map of the Black Country we were amazed how many there were. I think there were over 140 showed up and that probably is the legacy of Dig for Victory and the post-war allotments.

I was a bit anxious when I first started because it felt like a very bleak and difficult place to go, but as soon as I walked through the allotment gates and stated to meet people I just felt completely comfortable. They were very welcoming, very hospitable, always happy to talk with me and show me things and tell me about what they were doing.

When we launched the project, at West Brom Town Hall, over 100 people turned up - people who'd never been to the Town Hall before. People really dressed up.

It was a lovely occasion and we've had great feedback, people just feeling that this is a very special and precious thing. I think people rightly feel that they that their endeavours have been honoured in this project.”

  • Black Country Allotment Society is an essay project by Susie Parr, resulting in a limited edition presentation box available from Multistory.

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